Saturday, November 29, 2014

Carol Tomlinson and differentiation

When I first heard that  Carol Tomlinson was speaking on differentiation in science I thought...oh man...I'm not sure we need to split up into differentiated groups in science.  I was prepared to disagree with everything she would say.  In fact, I told a friend that I was going so that I would have more ammunition to debate why what we do with FOSS is better than differentiating.  But, I can now say I was wrong...big time!

She hooked me right away when she introduced us to the Common Sense model of Differentiation.
As she  spoke about these points, I realized what was the problem with the way that many people interpret differentiation.  It is so much more that just leveled books, leveled worksheets and more.  It is, in the truest sense, a method of framing instruction.These are the key points I took away that we need to remember at all times.In order to be a really effective classroom teacher, you need to plan for:

Learning Goals

Here is a graphic that she showed us that really puts this in perspective: 
When I break it down, it makes me think of the parts that are at work in many successful classrooms.  At our school we believe in the Responsive Classroom approach to environment, routines, relationships and more.  We have also read Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind to help us reach our hard to reach students of poverty.  These kids need a different approach than many of our "typical" children.  

Next, I think of our science curriculum and instruction. At our school we also use FOSS, a research based model of instruction that is recognized across the nation for engaging, thought provoking science instruction.  FOSS breaks down instruction by providing an outline of learning goals that can be organized into what the students should know, understand and do. 

Throughout the model there are opportunities for formative and summative assessments along with suggestions to adjust your teaching to meet the needs of all your students.  It also creates an opportunity to teach teach beyond the basic standards and teach for understanding. 

 And so...I realized that I do agree with Carol Tomlinson's theories on differentiation.  My planning sheet is tailored to meet the needs of all learners. I assess and adjust all the time throughout the day.  My classroom environment is open and engaging for all.  Differentiation is not JUST leveled is a whole philosophy based on best teaching strategies. Now, I can't wait to read more  of her books and visit her website to learn even more.

Monday, November 24, 2014


I've been inspired.  It's been a while since I have really felt rejuvenated....You see, I have been slipping quietly into a fixed mindset.  I have let the realities of the day get in the way and slow me down.  Anyone else feel this way?

I just returned from my annual VAST (Virginia Association of Science Teachers) conference in Roanoke, Va.   I must say that I worked my tail off during this trip - presented twice and worked the t-shirt booth! But, I was also able to slip away for a few sessions.

First...I saw the amazing Dr. Adolph Brown.  I don't really know how to describe him except that he was engaging, real and funny. He reminded us to have Fun, be Firm, and to have Faith.  Real Talk.

Second....I was able to connect with many science teachers across the state who are trying so hard to provide quality instruction for their students.  Many of us, myself included, were not given professional development days to

attend this conference.  Instead, we took sick or personal leave.  But we did it anyway...because we need to reconnect with teachers who share a vision.. a sense of belonging...a love of our students and a need to continue to grow in our profession.  It humbles me every time.

Last, but certainly not least...I heard Dr. Carol Tomlinson speak.  I actually went into her session thinking I was not going to agree with her at all.  I thought that her view of differentiation and my view of differentiation were completely different.  Boy was I wrong.  She shared a simple look at common sense differentiation that included relationships, mindset, engagement and more.

I am excited to be re-energized and focussed about instruction.  My hope and plan is to organize my thoughts and present what I have come to know with you.  I realized that I missed writing this blog....It keeps me keeps me keeps me real.  One day I hope to write it all down in a book...that is my dream and my vision...

But for now, I have a list of about 20 things I want to share with you.  Stay tuned!